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Dany Laferrière’s exile to treasures

In the center of the cover of Exile is worth the trip sits a very colorful snail whose spiral is reminiscent of that of the belly of Ubu King of Jarry. The author does not take himself seriously and likes the ironic link between the gastropod and the trip. The following pages are colorful, full of intertwining of drawings and handwriting, and recall the original History of comic theater by André Degaine. The object is between comics and autobiographical narrative, a desire to show in images what words do not always say. Academician Dany Laferrière digs there a little more his find of the novel drawn after notably Self-portrait of Paris with cat, published in 2018. Perhaps out of a desire to renew itself, to return to the simple, the playful, the joyful, far from the uniform lines of the computer.

The crossing is worth reading. Whirling around the pure chronological narrative of his journey which he has already told elsewhere, Dany Laferrière mixes his readings, his friendships and his loves, his reflections on cinema and writing. It was the assassination in 1976 by the Macoute uncle of his friend Gasner Raymond, an intrepid 23-year-old journalist, who “Changed the color of the day and caused an unparalleled upheaval in [sa] life”. It is by “The fatal pivot on which fate turns its hinges of darkness and light” that the chapter is told telling of his hasty departure from Port-au-Prince (under the discreet protection of the god Legba). Like Gasner Raymond, he worked at the weekly the Little Saturday evening, under the deadly threat of the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Only his mother then knows that he is flying out of the Caribbean and brings him a small suitcase of clothes and books at the airport.

Here he is in exile, settled in Montreal where a form of apprenticeship begins for the uprooted. In his little room on rue Saint-Denis, he built up a library made up entirely of exiles. Above the drawing of her figure lying on her bed at the bottom of the page, with her hands the sad Ovid, the names of Hugo, Nabokov, Mandelstam, Lezama Lima, Madame de Staël, Soljenitsyne, Borges, Mandela, Toussaint Louverture are piled up on slices of books. At each of these so different exiles, he gives a place at one time or another in this book, his Wikipedian notice to him. Because exile is the subject from start to finish. And rather than treating it in dramatic fashion, Dany Laferrière opted, in both form and content, for the generous cord. Leaving his country can be fruitful, he only wants to see its good sides. Nothing shows through in the odd jobs he had to do to earn his living, the discouragement that sometimes took him, breakups and dramatic events. Yes so little. Of his mother who stayed in the country and of her oleanders, she who has already experienced the departure of his father, the son presents a tender and modest image.


Reading appears to be one of his great occupations. One of the origins of this passion comes from the memory of his grandfather reading at dawn, and from his broad smile when he saw the child who observed him at first terrorized. After his death, little Dany threw himself on the books. It seems that he never let them go. “I like this state. Read, sleep, and read again. This feeling of floating. It is perhaps at this precise moment, if we are not careful, that the style of a writer that we love chooses to penetrate you far enough in the mind to become yours. So I try to spot the slightest sound, to capture the most allusive noise. The rumor of life. Like a wild animal on the lookout in a dozing or rather waking forest. ” The young Haitian in his Quebec room converses with the authors, revives the debates between Baldwin and Faulkner, forges his critical spirit. He infuses his gallery of writers with a human and palpable presence. There are in his attendance texts from different circles, the exiles, the Blacks, that he pushes his friend Julie to discover (Césaire, Jacques Roumain, Senghor), she who criticizes him for not having women in his pantheon , and at the bottom of the heart the battered and brilliant Haitian poets. Exile is worth the trip begins with the announcement of the death of Jean-Claude Charles (1949-2008), “The one I felt closest to, by style of course”, his friend, met in 1986 after the departure of “Baby Doc”. But he also evokes Carl Brouard, who lived like a tramp, Magloire-Saint-Aude noticed by André Breton, Davertige, Frankétienne… Homage to Haitian literature, he who succeeded well beyond, and even entered the Academy French.

What is also striking is how easy it is to meet people, to bond, to discover places, with unassuming enthusiasm. Shortly after arriving in Montreal, “A cockroach evening”, he entered a jazz club, the Rising Sun, where Nina Simone sang on the tiny stage. Boss Doudou Boicel advises him to build a relationship with a girl while it’s summer to have a warm nest in winter. “Why don’t you write instead, huh? You have read enough like that … “ he said to her, and he lent her an old typewriter. “I always thought that to be a writer, it is not a question of knowing how to write but of being at the foot of a wall. This wall is winter, old man, he laughs, which awakens Nina Simone who was drowsy singing. ” This is how Dany Laferrière became a writer. He said. The anecdote goes well with its colorful and naive designs. His first title How to make love with a negro without getting tired published in 1985, a great success. But he doesn’t cover any of his previous books in that one.


Exile has therefore become a kaleidoscope of encounters and enrichments in contact with others, as with the Japanese Kero, a mysterious personality, a stylist fascinated by Van Dongen. Exile has also become a journey, to the United States, Brazil, Guyana (where he reads Guy Debord), etc. The episodes are riddled with sentences, poems, notes. In a “chapter” titled “The Secret Book”, Dany Laferrière says that when he arrives in a new city, to get an idea of ​​the type of society, he first goes to the cemetery and then to a bookstore. “No need to listen to official speeches, the cemetery is the book that reveals the hidden part of a city. And the bookstore is often like the cemetery: if you haven’t noticed many foreigners in the cemetery, you won’t find many at the bookstore either (I’m talking about the writers). ” The spiral of the snail unfolds like this, these are the memories of an epicurean, who also knows that exile made him a writer.

Frédérique Roussel

Dany Laferrière

Exile is worth the trip Grasset, 408 pp., € 28 (ebook: € 18.99).


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